Thursday, May 28, 2009

I Wake Up Dreaming: The Haunted World of the B Film Noir

The final tally is in at I Wake Up Dreaming at the Roxie.

They screened 29 features and one short film over 15 days. I previously had seen five of the features - Raw Deal, Framed, The Story of Molly X, The Burglar and Repeat Performance. I re-watched Framed which features a great performance by the alluring Janis Carer. I also watched Raw Deal again which wasn't as enjoyable as a I recalled.

Of the 29 features, I caught 23 of them. I missed four films because I opted to see some films at Women on the Verge at the Castro. The other two that I missed were The Burglar and Repeat Performance where I caught only half of the double bill.

Two films that I missed which are screening as part of the six day encore, Redux: The Best of I Wake Up Dreaming, are The Port of Forty Thieves and Private Hell 36. I'm not sure if I'll catch them. Frankly, I'm burnt out on noir, the Roxie and the Mission District. Festival programmer Elliot Lavine did mention that the $100 festival pass was good for the Redux screenings so I may be tempted.

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I Wake Up Dreaming: The Haunted World of the B Film Noir
All Night Long with Patrick McGoohan and Richard Attenborough; on-screen performances by Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus; (1961)
The Guilty with Bonita Granville; (1947)
The Devil Thumbs a Ride with Lawrence Tierney; (1947)
Raw Deal with Raymond Burr; directed by Anthony Mann; (1948)
Railroaded! with Hugh Beaumont; directed by Anthony Mann; (1947)
Canon City; (1948)
Framed with Glenn Ford, Janis Carter and Barry Sullivan; (1947)
The Madonna's Secret; (1946)
The Specter of the Rose written and directed by Ben Hecht; (1946)
Violence; (1947)
The Last Crooked Mile; (1946)
The Hoodlumn with Lawrence Tierney; (1951)
New York Confidential with Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte & Anne Bancroft; (1955)
Witness to Murder with Barbara Stanwyck; (1954)
Hollow Triumph (aka The Scar) with Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett; (1948)
Under Age; (1941)
Women in the Night; (1948)
The Pretender with Albert Dekker; (1947)
Suspense with Barry Sullivan, Belita, Albert Dekker & Bonita Granville; (1946)
Wife Wanted with Kay Francis; directed by Phil Karlson; (1946)
Allotment Wives with Kay Francis; (1945)
Shack Out on 101 with Keenan Wynn and Lee Marvin; (1955)
City of Fear; (1959)
Blind Alley; short film; directed by Elliot Lavine; (1981)

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June looks to be even busier than May for me.

Another Hole in the Head runs from June 5 to 19. The Oshima Retrospective at the PFA runs a double feature every Thursday and Saturday night in June. On Friday nights in June, the PFA screens a Phil Karlson double feature.

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Somehow, I want to squeeze in Psych-Out at the Red Vic on Friday, June 5 or Saturday, June 6.

Filmed in the Haight in 1968, Psych-Out is possibly “(t)he best Haight-Ashbury drug film. Susan Strasberg as a deaf 17-year-old runaway looking for her missing brother is `helped’ by the hippie team of Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson (as Stoney), Adam Rourke and Max Julien. They get her beads and a mini to replace her square clothes and give her some STP, which sends her wandering in the traffic. The lost brother turns out to be a long-haired Bruce Dern walking around like a mysterious Christ figure.” -- Michael Weldon, Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

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The Burning Fuse Film Festival screens concurrently with Hole in the Head at the Roxie on June 5, 7 and 8. The Burning Fuse Films get the Little Roxie when the Hole in the Head films play at the same time. Two films from the festival look interesting.

Pussycat Preacher - A lapsed stripper becomes an evangelical minister, but her ministry outreach to sex workers stirs her congregation’s prejudice and doubt. The film presents a mesmerizing and at times hilarious portrait. I've seen the ex-stripper, Heather Vietch, on the news - FoxNews or MSNBC. It screens June 5 (Friday), June 7 (Sunday) and June 8 (Monday); 7:45 PM showtime each night.

Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans - The untold history of Black New Orleans. Not a Katrina film, but a love letter to a city, revealed when a newspaperman rebuilds a historic house in what may be the oldest black neighborhood in America, and the birthplace of jazz. Produced by Wynton Marsalis. It screens June 5 (Friday) at 6 PM and June 7 (Sunday) at 2 PM.

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With the $100 I Wake Up Dreaming Festival Pass, I've pushed my average cost down to $7.23/screening. It was at $7.75 immediately before the festival began. Please no wagering on the number.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Parkway, Cerrito and Balboa

I noticed that the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater closed with little fanfare recently. Originally, the theater was to close for a week while it negotiated a new lease with the El Cerrito city government. Yesterday, the website said it was closed indefinitely. Now the website makes the end final.

Speakeasy Theaters is signing off.

Thank you for 14 amazing years. What a long, strange trip it’s been. We are proud of what we’ve built and are looking forward to whatever is next. We’ve built community, lovingly restored two beautiful theaters, met some wild and wonderful people and learned a lot along the way.

Our public demise has been glowingly at hand and we are here to bear witness, rejoice and mourn. It has been a fitful, exciting, exhausting and eventually frustrating tenure but it was a true representation of us. Catherine and I had a blast in the process and through the guidance of our genius shrink, learned much about our real selves.

Catherine and I are mulling over our next adventure. We need to walk the beach, clear our minds and let the universe speak to us. That’s how we found Speakeasy Theaters, our publishing company before that and the neighborhood pub. The beach heals what ails. Thanks to all of you who have enjoyed what we have offered, who have shared in our vision and who love the idea of building and sharing community.

It is awesome and often extremely embarrassing to have your life play out in such a public manner. But you learn that you must strive to be bold in attempting to be true to your realest self. For better or for worse this has been an expression of our essence and people will judge us as they choose. Hey – whatever. We are at the same time amazing and flawed. Life is a great teacher. Rejoice.

Kyle and Catherine

PS. We had some wonderful employees. IF any of them should pass your way, please offer them your assistance or a job. They served with very little compensation.


The backstory to this fare-thee-well is that Kyle and Catherine Fischer owned the Parkway Speakeasy in Oakland which closed on March 22. They were criticized for giving little advance notice of the closing. They retreated to their original theater, the Cerrito Speakeasy in El Cerrito.

Faced with a $10,000 monthly lease and slow economic times, they felt compelled to renegotiate the terms of their lease. They made some missteps or miscommunications. It was unclear if they wanted to continue operating the theater under any terms. I don't know the specifics but I believe the El Cerrito government is looking for new theater operators.

When the Parkway closed, they had articles in the Chronicle. For the Cerrito, I haven't seen anything in the Chronicle. I saw a few blurbs in the East Bay Express blog.

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Around the time the Parkway closed, the Chronicle ran an article titled Bay Area's best spots to catch a movie. You can scratch the Cerrito and the Parkway from the list.

Also, the Balboa which is on the list has lamented its finances and lack of audience in their weekly newsletters. It wouldn't surprise me if that theater closes soon.

I've heard the Cerrito's problem was they couldn't get first run movies. The Balboa gets first run movies. They've had Star Trek since its opening weekend. Their smaller screen is showing Angels & Demons. I read that movie box office revenues are up as people flock to lower cost entertainment during slow economic times. I guess that hasn't been the case for the Balboa.

I saw Star Trek at the Balboa on Sunday, May 24 (9:30 showtime). There were about 40 people in the audience. I don't know if that is high or low for them. The big room in the Balboa can seat at least 400 peole and maybe more. Monday was a holiday so I would expect more people than a typical Sunday 9:30 screening. I don't really have any comments and certainly not a solution. I checked my film log and I've seen three films at the Balboa in the past 18 months - Juno, Iron Man and Star Trek. I'd go more often if they switched back to rep house programming but clearly I'm in the minority. They tried that before and couldn't make a go of it.

So the Balboa is in no man's land for me. Their programming doesn't really appeal to me and their old programming (which appealed to me) was a money loser. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. I will say that their current business strategy seems like a sure loser. Why would people go to the Balboa to see first run movies when they could go to a multiplex? In San Francisco, there are three mutliplexes (maybe 25 screens) within a block or two of various subway stations; four if you count the multiplex in Daly City. The Balboa has two screens and is way out in the Outer Richmond. It seems like they will only draw in people from the neighborhood and people like me who will drive an extra few miles to support an independent theater. At least with the old programming, they offered an alternative that people couldn't get in a cineplex. It was kind of like having a PFA branch in the City. There's an idea. I wonder if the Balboa couldn't affiliate itself with PFA and be a branch facility.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ms. 45 and Black Narcissus - Don't Get in the Habit

Let me share a few thoughts while I have a little time to write.

The Lost World was quite a treat. The 1925 silent film pioneered stop-motion animation or claymation. The film is probably familiar to casual film goers because of its iconic images of dinosaurs. The second Jurassic Park shared its subtitle and a large part of its plot with this film.

The Lost World (1925)

Accompanying the film was the band Dengue Fever. A couple years ago, IndieFest or DocFest screened a documentary called Sleepwalking Through the Mekong about the band. Dengue Fever combines "Cambodian pop with surf, ska, psychedelia and funk." I don't even know what Cambodian pop and ska sound like but Dengue Fever has a pretty unique and appealing sound based on the performance I saw.

I still did not fully appreciate their soundtrack. Silent films are of a very specific period - 1910's and 1920's so I expect the soundtrack to match that period. Certainly, I may have been conditioned to expect a certain sound from silent films on television. Was every silent film scored with a Joplinish piano accompaniment? Some of the large scale films had full orchestras so who am I to say that Dengue Fever didn't do it right. I'm a guy that paid the admission and has a blog so that's qualifications enough in this day and age. I thought their music crescendoed at the wrong times, was uptempo at the wrong times, etc. I felt the music did not match the action in the film. I actually liked the music and am interested in hearing more of their songs but I didn't think their work was right for the film.

Dengue Fever

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After a long period of anticipation, I finally caught The Beast Stalker and I was suitably impressed. The plot is fairly unoriginal and riddled with too many coincidences but it has a great villain which makes all the difference. Nick Cheung plays the bad guy - a man going blind due to a car accident that paralyzed his wife. To pay for her care, he becomes an assassin/kidnapper for hire. I appreciated his performance as he caromed between menacing a young captive, kicking ass on anyone that gets in his way and tenderly caring for his wife. There is a great car crash scene and the rest of the film is watching Cheung tear it up.

Nick Chung in The Beast Stalker

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Was Last House on the Left (1972) the first film to feature the now ubiquitous fellatio-castration scene?

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Ms. 45 (1981) by Abel Ferrara was an exploitation masterpiece. Reading some reviews and judging by the audience response, it appears this film is held up as a twisted but powerful feminist manifesto. The plot involves a mute woman that is raped twice in one day who turns into a vigilante. Over the course of the film, she goes from avenger to psychotic mankiller. I think that subtlety may have been lost on some of the more ardent womyn viewers.

I thought the film was a brilliant black comedy which benefited tremendously by scripting the eponymous character as being mute. Because she was mute, she never had to explain herself or orate the obligatory expository. Instead she was able to communicate exclusively through facial gesticulation; in particular, she had extremely expressive eyes. Zoë Lund (nee Tamerlis) was perfectly cast as Ms. 45. Ferrara pulls out every trick in the book to advance this simple revenge tale cum girl gone crazy. He gives Ms. 45 a jazzy, saxophone leitmotif whenever she dispatches a man to the afterlife. He plays with the audience by introducing the leitmotif but thwarting the anti-heroine. He introduces a nosy neighbor and annoyingly yappy dog as comic foils. Most skillfully, he directs Lund as she dismembers her first victim and stores the body parts in her refrigerator with great flourishes of black humor. The climax is one for the ages as Lund is dressed as a nun (at a Halloween party) when she goes on her final murderous rampage.

Zoë Lund in Ms. 45

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The single most memorable scene for me in the past month was from Black Narcissus (1947). This melodrama about Catholic nuns in the Himalayas had brilliant technicolor for 1947. Deborah Kerr plays the Sister Superior. One of her nuns (Sister Ruth played by Katherine Byron) is slowly going insane. She lusts for the only white man within 1000 miles and she's convinced that Kerr is thwarting the love affair from blooming. Over the course of the film she buys a tight dress and applies eye shadow in a copious amounts. The end result is an evil looking harpie that has inspired horror film directors for generations. There is a scene where Kerr bursts in on Byron and discover her out of the habit that is played to the hilt. Also, the climactic scene involves Byron in full war paint sneaking up on Kerr as she rings a bell on the edge of a cliff.

Katherine Byron in Black Narcissus

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Cannibal Holocaust (1980) - I've heard about it for years and it still holds it's own after nearly 30 years. Great soundtrack too. The film was the proto-Blair Witch Project; a mocumentary about a professor that recovers the film that a documentary crew shot in the deepest regions of Amazonia which is coincidentally the same place The Lost World was set. Rather than being vegan, chai drinking, NPR listening, pacifists, the documentarians rape, pillage and maim their way to what they hope will be an award winning documentary about alleged cannibals. Unwilling to let events unfold at their own pace, the four person crew spice things up with their own special brand of mayhem. By the end of the film, you are cheering on the cannibals as they rape, castrate and likely consume the four über-boorish Americans (they had to be Americans).

The film is disturbing not so much for the cruelties inflicted on the humans which I knew to be staged but rather the cruelties inflicted on the animals which are supposedly real. A sea turtle, a pig and a monkey are killed on screen and if what I read is accurate, the animals were actually killed. The director later apologized for the animal cruelty. The sea turtle butchering was especially hard to stomach. They chopped off the head, peeled off the shell and carved up the entrails. It was very hard to take.

Cannibal Holocaust

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Taking Inventory as of May 23

I've been so busy going to the movies, I haven't had time to write about them or the movies I'm planning on seeing. I've been to the theater 15 out of the last 19 days and have seen 30 films during that period.

I will postpone cataloging the films from I Wake Up Dreaming: The Haunted World of the B Film Noir at the Roxie since that series is still in progress. However, I will say that they passed out a flyer today for Noir Redux: The Best of I Wake Up Dreaming from May 29 to June 3. The crowds have been fairly large (by Roxie standards) for the screenings I've been to so encore performances are certainly justified.

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2009 San Francisco International Film Festival
The Lost World starring Wallace Beery; silent with intertitles; live accompaniment by Dengue Fever; (1925)

Coming Apart: Two Views of 1972 at the YBCA
F.T.A. (aka Free the Army or Fuck the Army); documentary with Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland; (1972)
Last House on the Left directed by Wes Craven; (1972)

First Stabs: Formative Works by Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman presented by the Film on Film Foundation at the Roxie
Flying Padre; documentary directed by Stanley Kubrick; (1951)
Day of the Fight; documentary directed by Stanley Kubrick; (1951)
Fear and Desire directed by Stanley Kubrick; (1953)
The Delinquents starring Tom Laughlin; directed by Robert Altman; (1957)

Landmark Theater Midnight Movies Series at the Clay
Cannibal Holocaust directed by Ruggero Deodato; (1980)

Women on the Verge at the Castro
Black Narcissus starring Deborah Kerr; (1947)
Suddenly, Last Summer starring Katharine Hepburn, Montgomery Clift and and Elizabeth Taylor; directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; screenplay by Gore Vidal based on a play by Tennessee Williams; (1959)
Possession starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill; (1981)
Remember My Name starring Geraldine Chaplin and Anthony Perkins; (1978)
Ms. 45 starring Zoë Lund; directed by Abel Ferrara; (1981)

Z starring Yves Montand and Irene Papas; directed by Costa-Gavras; French with subtitles; (1969)
Gomorrah; Italian with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
The Beast Stalker starring Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung; directed by Dante Lam; Cantonese with subtitles; (2008) - Official Website
Fighting starring Terrence Howard; (2009) - Official Website
Serbis directed by Brillante Mendoza; Tagalog with subtitles; (2008) - Offical Website

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2009 Another Hole in the Head Website Launched

SF Indiefest's Another Hole in the Head festival website launched yesterday or today. The "Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy Film Festival" runs June 5 to 18 at the Roxie. By the way, the Roxie's website has been redesigned.

The first thing I notice is that the program seems slimmer. I see that they are not screening at noon and 2:30 (or was it 12:30 and 2:45?) as they have in the past. On Saturdays, they used to have 6 films and 5 films on Sunday. This year, they are screening 3 films every night except Fridays and Saturdays which have 4. They used to have both screens at the Roxie if my memory is correct. This year, they only have one screen.

The festival pass is only $100 and if I counted correctly, there are 19 film programs. As has been the case the past few years, the Primitive Screwheads are performing live (pun intended). What is different is that they are performing at the Great Star Theater in Chinatown. The Great Star is an old movie theater that used to show Chinese movies. I don't think they were subtitled. It's been closed for a decade or so.

I have not been able to look through the schedule very closely. I'll have to juggle the PFA's Oshima retrospective with Another Hole in the Head. However, given that some of the films screen four times, I shouldn't be too difficult. I do notice two Miike films, two Pinku Eiga films and a short film presented by kink.com called The Future of Fucking so I know where the festival's heart (and other anatomical parts) lay.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Return of the Beast Stalker and Not in Vogue

A few weeks ago, I went to the Vogue Theater to see I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, a documentary directed by Richard Shepard.

Looking at the schedule, I knew it was going to be trouble. I believe the film started at 7 PM. It was less than an hour long but was followed up by a Q&A by Shepard. The second half of the double feature was Dog Day Afternoon. That was less than 3 hours of movies but my concern was that the Q&A would drag on and on.

Why do people feel compelled to ask inane questions at the Q&A? One woman asked if Shephard was going to make the late-night TV talk show circuit with his film. Leno & Letterman always have independent film makers promoting their non-feature length films as guests.

I will say that Shephard was an energetic & entertaining speaker. SF Chronicle movie critic Ruthe Stein, who functioned as the interviewer and facilitator, moved things along well enough. There was probably 30 minutes of Q&A; quite reasonable in my opinion.

Stein or someone on the Vogue staff announced a 15 to 20 minute intermission before the next film. The Vogue only has one toilet for the men's room so an intermission was quite reasonable. Having spent a lot of time in movie theaters between screenings, I know that the projectionist will frequently project the aspect ratio grid onto the screen to match the film print. For the DVDs, they will project a portion of the movie to size it properly on the screen, test the colors & the sound.

The staff at the Vogue did neither of these for what turned out to be closer to an hour intermission. The length of the intermission left me stewing but what made me really frustrated was that Dog Day Afternoon was being screened from a DVD and even worse, the sound didn't work. It took several minutes to get the sound working. Some people walked out of the "film" at that point; apparently their patience has been exhausted by the endless intermission and technical difficulties.

My clarion call to the Vogue is

1) keep the length of the intermission reasonable
2) test the film/DVD during the intermission
3) show film over DVD whenever possible

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I notice the 4-Star Theater is now listing The Beast Stalker as opening on May 15.

May is going to be an insanely busy month for me if I see all the films I want to see - I Wake Up Dreaming at the Roxie, Women on the Verge at the Castro, a few programs at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, three films (Gomorrah, Serbis and A Wink And A Smile) at the Red Vic, The Beast Stalker at the 4-Star, the beginning of the Oshima retrospective at the PFA, the early Kubrick/Altman double bill by Film on Film Foundation and The Lost World with live accompaniment by Dengue Fever as part of the 2009 SF International Film Festival.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Five Best Autobiographies by Actresses

I'm behind in my reading. I finally read the February 21 edition of the Wall St. Journal. There is a regular Saturday article called Five Best where guest columnists list five books that are the best in their category (in which the columnist is an expert). The February 21 article was titled Autobiographies by Actresses by Molly Haskell, author of Frankly My Dear: Gone With the Wind Revisited. Here is the link (subscription required).

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1. Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister
By Evelyn Keyes
Stuart, 1977

As the title of Evelyn Keyes's exuberantly clear-eyed autobiography makes clear, the woman who played Suellen in Gone With the Wind was more often bridesmaid than star. But what she was denied on the screen she made up for on the page in one of the juiciest and most shrewdly observed books ever to come out of Hollywood. The actress who grew up poor and provincial in Atlanta went knocking on studio doors with nothing more than a vague dream of stardom and a naïveté so thick it was almost a protective armor. She needed every bit of that, and her extraordinary humor, to survive the Daddy figures who served as mentors and something more: Cecil B. DeMille, Harry Cohn, Charles Vidor and John Huston, her third and most flamboyant husband. He takes her out deer hunting in Idaho and fishing with Hemingway in Key West (where the writer's wife, Maria, "cleaned her toenails with a long knife and cut the bread with it afterward"). On the Idaho trip, under Huston's tutelage, Keyes successfully kills a buck -- an experience that her husband later describes as "the best part of our life together." In "Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister," Keyes, who died last summer, raises unflappability to a fine art. Don't be fooled by the throwaway style: The timing is too good, the mots too justes.

2. The Lonely Life
By Bette Davis
Putnam, 1962

Any actress who can expose herself to the flesh-peddling standards of Hollywood -- surviving such confidence-shattering epithets as "little brown wren" and "as sexy as Slim Summerville" -- and still insist on a high-toned career while staring down studio bosses has chutzpah to burn. And Bette Davis, a stalwart New Englander who made three movies a year while using her excess energy to fight with Warner Bros., had it in spades. Even more important than sheer ambition, or perhaps it is one of ambition's hallmarks, was Davis's ability to put aside her East Coast theatrical snobbery and see movies as a different medium and moviemaking as a craft with different technical demands that she was determined to learn. As suggested by the title of her memoir, "The Lonely Life," Davis had little interest in false pride; she describes the highs and lows of her career and marriages, coming to the realization that you can't "have it all." Her attempts to be a "real" wife were doomed to failure, she confesses. The role of the "little woman" was perhaps the only one totally beyond her.

3. My Story
By Mary Astor
Doubleday, 1959

Though she made more than a hundred films, most of them silents, the dark-eyed beauty Mary Astor was never a mega-star, but she was more interesting than many who were. Astor was the daughter of an educated, schoolteacher mother and an ambitious German immigrant father so grasping and domineering that studio executives refused to negotiate with him. Sheltered and exploited her entire life, she hadn't had a chance to develop a moral compass or a sense of self before falling under the spell of mentor-lovers both kind (Jack Barrymore) and ambivalent (the rest), and of husbands (four in all) with a lower libido than hers. An increasingly disabling alcoholism led her first to the Catholic Church and then (with the encouragement of a
priest-psychotherapist) to the writing of this remarkable book, in which she comes to terms with the rushed-into marriages, the drinking and above all the furor in the 1930s over a diary -- which surfaced during a child-custody battle with one of her ex-husbands -- in which she recorded her affair with writer George S. Kaufman. In "My Story," Astor displays those unusual and very grown-up qualities -- refined but sensual, stand-offish but come-hither -- that sometimes were a liability in Hollywood casting but make for a complex and riveting memoir.

4. Lulu in Hollywood
By Louise Brooks
Knopf, 1982

After laboring for much of the 1920s in Hollywood, the black-helmeted Kansas-born free spirit Louise Brooks had to go to Europe to become a star. She was a revelation in two mesmerizing German silent films directed by G.W. Pabst, Pandora's Box (1928) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) -- but then Brooks, independent-minded to a fault, refused to compromise once Hollywood came calling, and she basically threw her career away. By the late 1940s, she was working as a saleslady at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. She was rescued by admirers, chief among them James Card, curator of the George Eastman House film archive in Rochester, N.Y. He persuaded Brooks to move to Rochester, where she lived in the 1950s as a recluse, watched films, her own and others, and was reborn as a writer. (She was also rediscovered as an actress by Kenneth Tynan, who championed her work in an influential piece for The New Yorker.) "Lulu in Hollywood" -- Lulu was the ill-fated
innocent who drove men to distraction in Pandora's Box -- is a collection of Brooks's often brilliant essays. Some of the pieces recount her own joyous romp through the 1920s as a Ziegfeld showgirl (a job she enjoyed more than making movies) and party-girl courtesan. Other essays shimmer with insight as she discusses the work of Humphrey Bogart, W.C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish and others. She paints a vivid picture of Bogie, for instance, still showing vestiges of the stiff stage actor in The Roaring Twenties in 1939, when he appears helpless opposite James Cagney, whose "swift dialogue" and "swift movements . . . had the glitter and precision of a meat slicer . . . impossible to anticipate or counterattack."

5. Me
By Katharine Hepburn
Random House, 1991

Katharine Hepburn, equal to Bette Davis in ambition, seems in this memoir also to share her sense of solitary pursuit: "People who want to be famous are really loners. Or they should be." Like Davis, Hepburn put career first; unlike Davis, she never really fantasized the perfect marriage and the little white house. Until she fell for Spencer Tracy, she kept her lovers -- Howard Hughes, Leland Hayward -- at arm's length and was a shrewd businesswoman from the start. Her writing style consists of a slapdash series of jottings to self and fans, as if she were dictating while striding over a golf course. Yet "Me" captures beautifully that signal Hepburn combination of presumption and insecurity, self-love and abject humility. Should I have done this, done that? Wasn't I a bitch! And, yes, she was, often, but also an enchantress, and she is unstinting in showing us both. A superhuman resiliency allows her (like Davis) to suffer the most humiliating setbacks -- she was once famously declared "box-office poison" -- and continue going forward. Her flinty New England upbringing was both inspiration and protection: At her parents' urging, she was diving off cliffs, wrestling and competing from an early age, turning fear into something she feared so much that it made her fearless.

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The Evelyn Keyes and Louise Brooks memoirs look interesting. I discovered Keyes from Noir City and enjoyed her performances in The Prowler, 99 River Street and Hell's Half Acre. The article mentions she passed away last year. Noir City had a montage of film clips featuring actors and directors that passed away in 2008. A great scene featuring Keyes (and I believe Brad Dexter) from 99 River Street is a great example on Noir banter.

As for Louise Brooks...she was so great, they are still wearing her haircut 80 years later. Lulu was not just sexy but she was a movie star meaning I can't take my eyes off her when she is on the screen. It makes you wonder how she would have spent her youth if she hadn't been making films. The synopsis indicates she would have been a Ziegfeld girl.

Louise Brooks

Friday, May 1, 2009

17th Century Murder Conspiracy, Horses with Cancer, Moe, Larry and Curly

Despite my best efforts to avoid the festival, I did go to a screening of the San Francisco International Film Festival at the PFA. I saw Rembrandt's J'Accuse, which is an "essayistic documentary" on Rembrandt's famous painting The Night Watch. Directed by Peter Greenaway, Rembrandt's J'Accuse contends that the painting leaves visual clues (31 or 32 in total) of a murder by the men depicted in the painting. Among the more "subtle" clues is a ceremonial spear that is shaped like a man's genitalia and the casting of a man's hand shadow onto another man's crotch.

I'm not sure if I'm convinced of the murder conspiracy but the film was tremendously entertaining. I wasn't expecting a big crowd due to the esoteric subject matter but the PFA was near sold out.

2009 San Francisco International Film Festival
Rembrandt's J'Accuse; documentary with re-enactments; directed by Peter Greenaway; (2008)

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I saw Lost in the Fog at the Roxie as part of their $5 Monday ticket special. Director John Corey took questions from the audience after the 7 PM screening. I don't follow horse racing but even I knew about Lost in the Fog, the phenomonally successfully racehorse from the Bay Area. The story lent itself well to a documentary. Corey mentioned that the original intent of the story was to focus on three men - the owner, the trainer and the jockey of Lost in the Fog. As he was getting ready to wrap up the film, the horse came down with cancer and died.

He retooled the film to include the horse's final months and had to cut the jockey's screen time. The owner, the late Harry Aleo, was a San Francisco fixture with his Noe Valley office featuring photos of Ronald Reagan and other Republican memorabilia. The scene I recall is toward the end of the film when Aleo is at the Tennessee Grill in the Inner Sunset district. I've eaten at that diner many times. I wonder if I saw Aleo there. His face looked familiar but maybe I saw him from news reports on Lost in the Fog.

Also, Corey was a former staffer on KPIX's Evening Magazine. That was a show that featured Mike Rowe and Malou Nubla as correspondents that would go around the Bay Area cover "human interest" stories. Rowe has said that some of the segments evolved into Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel. Anyway, Rowe was the narrator of Lost in the Fog. Although Corey did not mention it during the Q&A, I'm sure he met Rowe during his time on Evening Magazine.

Lost in the Fog; documentary; (2008) - Official Website

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I also took advantage of the Castro Theater $5 Tuesday admission promotion by seeing a program of Three Stooges short films. At the beginning of one film (An Ache in Every Stake), there was a Stanford Theater moment where the film burned or disintegrated in the projector. Having read that nitrate films can produce toxic fumes when they burn, I reached for my coat and was ready to bid a hasty exit. Fortunately, no noxious gases were created and the projectionist re-spooled the film within a few minutes.

Three Stooges Shorts: Curly's Greatest Hits
Micro-Phonies (1945)
Hoi Polloi (1935)
We Want Our Mummy (1939)
Calling All Curs (1939)
Disorder in the Court (1936)
Violent is the Word For Curly (1938)
An Ache in Every Stake (1941)

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Speaking of the Discovery Channel, I notice there is a large Bay Area contingent on that network. In addition to Rowe, The Mythbusters (one of my favorite shows) is filmed locally.

On Sunday, I was flipping channels and saw the stars of Dogs of Chinatown on Time Warp which is a Discovery Channel program. I saw Dogs of Chinatown at the 4-Star a few weeks ago. Eric Jacobus and Ray Carbonel (who did Q&A after the screening), were performing some stunts on the show using high-speed photography. Jacobus (co-founder) and Carbonel are members of the Stunt People, a growing group of martial artists, acrobats, stuntmen, and stuntwomen who make their own films out of San Francisco, CA in the USA. They sport multiple ethnicities, body types, and martial arts backgrounds.